Any kind of washing machine will work. Learning how your washer actually works can help you get your laundry cleaner more easily.
There are differences in how various machines of various brands work and understanding how your own machine works is useful. No one can tell you how exactly YOU should wash your diapers. Machines and water composition varies a lot. You will see many opinions and suggestions on the internet and various schools of thought. Don't sweat it. You've been washing your clothes already so you can do this. Just observe your situation and figure out your own system. I hope these videos are helpful, even if they are a bit boring. The might save you time you'd otherwise need to spend watching your own machine working.
In my opinion (Karen), a good quality top loader cleans best, and an HE top loader is next-best, and the most challenging kind is a front loading machine. Some families actually buy a second washing machine, and love having 2 machines for their growing families long after the diapering years are over. That's not an option for everyone of course and it is not needed, but if you happen to find yourself in a position where a second washer is an option for your, go for it. Shared laundry areas work fine and one washer is completely fine of course. Hand washing works just fine. A tub or a bucket and a plunger are every effective! Any washer you happen to have is great. A diaper sprayer attached to the toilet is wonderful thing to have. I cloth diapered for 3 years without a diaper sprayer with no trouble, but now that I have one I do love it. If you are shopping for a washer, standard, simple top-loader cleans best but will probably wear out fabrics faster than the more gentle HE machines. Super-heated cycles over 150 degrees on expensive washers are not recommended for diapers since they will destroy the cotton, and the super-heating is not necessary. From our experience, very expensive front loading washers and automatic water level top loading machines make diaper washing more difficult than a top loader. More expensive does not mean "better at cleaning" when it comes to the price of washers. Except however, if you can get a warm rinse that is nice to have, because warm water helps rinse detergent residue easier than cold water. If you can get a warm rinse, get that wonderful option. Newer HE top loaders have enough water to clean well and are more gentle on the fabrics than the standard top loaders that have sharp edges on the center agitator seem to be working well for people. Some of the first generation font loader washers (2000-2001 models) didn't clean well and some of the first HE top loaders had issues, but those are exceptions. Machine manufacurers improved their products since then and most machines do work. To wash laundry, you just need water and some mechanical action. A plunger in a 5 gallon bucket works great for hand washing and hand washing really does work. Many of our customers do hand wash. So don't worry about your machine. This is just information. That's all.
Videos of how various washing machines work. These don't really tell you what to do (read the How-To-Booklet or the Quick Start Guide that comes with your order). These videos just give you an idea of HOW the machines themselves work when washing.
All three videos show the exact same diaper load of 30 size small yellow edge prefolds washing with one bright dish towel added to help you see the agitation more easily.
HE top load washing machine in action washing diapers. Check out the wonderful spin cycle at the end.
Maytag front loading washing machine in action washing diapers. Lift and drop.
Speed Queen Top load washer in action. Cleans really well very quickly. The spin cycle isn't as wonderful as HE top loader above but it works:
If you have a swirl post in your top loader, such as a Whirlpool top loader, that style of agitator has thinner and sharper edges and those edges tend to wear out fabrics more quickly than the agitator shown in the Speed Queen video. Shopping for a washer? Give Speed Queen a look. An HE Top Loader made in USA is another good choice. Swirl agitator top loaders get things clean easily but be aware that they do wear fabric out quickly - especially if your load size selection is not correct for the load. Getting your load size correct will help a lot so the diapers swish through correctly. I'm not a fan of front load washers but it is possible to make them work. Choosing made in USA when possible is good for many reasons. One reason is that parts are usually easier to get for made in USA machines just in case something should need a repair someday.
If you already have one of those low water front loading machines, don't worry! It's ok! I've successfully cleaned diapers in all kinds of machines including a very, very low water first-generation Whirlpool Duet and my diapers were clean even though that machine was very lousy. You can make it work. More information on how to succeed with low-water washers is found in the 16 page Green Mountain How To Wash Cloth Diapers Booklet, which is free with your order when you add it to your cart. Basically, what you need to do is run short cycles to get additional water changes, because they use such a small amount of water so that your main hot cycle is not done in dirty water. Spraying the poop off the diapers before putting them in the pail helps a lot so you need fewer cycles so it will take less time. Using the soak cycle can also help because time in water is helpful too. So you see, there are so many, many ways to do all of this. You will come up with your own method over time. If you have a very challenging washing situation, stay with 100% cotton and choose thinner diapers. Flats are the very best for easy washing, and prefolds are the next best and also very good for difficult washing situations, too. Avoid polyester and stay-dry diapers because they are very difficult to wash. Polyester stay-dry fabrics and microfiber are notoriously stinky and hard to clean. Cotton washes best. It washes better than hemp and bamboo, too.
Karen's thoughts: My perfect washer doesn't exist but it would be the wash cycle of the Speed Queen, (keep manual controls not computer controls) and the spin cycle of the HE top loader. In my imagination, change the drum inside the Speed Queen to be a drum like the Maytag HE Top Loader which has a zillion holes in it. That would be fabulous.
Here is the basic outline of all wash routines
Step 1. Somehow you need to get the pee and poop off the diapers so that your main wash is not full of soiled water.
Step 2. Run a main hot wash with detergent to clean the diapers.
Step 3. Somehow you need to rinse the diapers so the detergent is no longer in the diapers.
Step 4. Get the diapers dry somehow.
Yes, you can do this. Go to Washing Diapers page.